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Three Things We Learned Thursday: Love is in the air — and on the court — for Cleveland

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Just relax, your bracket isn’t that bad. Yet. Wait until the end of today, then it should be a smoldering pile of rubble. Sorry, just trying to be realistic. Anyway, here’s the big takeaways from an NBA Thursday with six games.

1) Love is in the air — and on the court — for Cleveland. Kevin Love returns, Cavaliers beat Jazz. The Cavaliers went 7-6 with Kevin Love sidelined following a knee scope to clean up “loose bodies” that were irritating him. Cleveland didn’t rebound as well without Love, their floor spacing wasn’t right, and their bench was hurt.

Thursday night, Love was back. A little earlier than expected, the team had said he was going to come back on the team’s upcoming road trip, but he played in this game in Cleveland instead. Love started 4-of-5 from the floor and finished with 10 points and nine rebounds.

Love being back wasn’t the reason the Cavaliers beat a good Jazz team, however — that was LeBron James. He had 17 of his 33 in the fourth to give the Cavs the win.

The Cavaliers have a 2.5 game lead over Boston and, sorry Celtics fans, but you’re not catching them. With Love back, the Cavaliers will cruise to the top seed in the East now. The only question left is can anyone challenge them in the East playoffs.

2) Russell Westbrook had the pass of the year Thursday night. Oh, and another triple-double. Yes, Westbrook had 24 points, 16 assists, and 10 rebounds to lead the Thunder past the stumbling Raptors in Toronto. That would be 34 triple-doubles this season, if you’re counting.

But that’s not what anyone is talking about — this half-court bounce pass through the defender’s legs to Victor Oladipo is the pass of the year. This is insane.

3) Dwyane Wade is done for the season with a fractured elbow. Bulls done as well. Wednesday night, Dwyane Wade collided with Zach Randolph and injured his elbow. Thursday, the Chicago Bulls announced Wade has a fractured elbow and is done for the season.

With that, the Bulls playoff dreams died as well. They didn’t look right for a while — the Bulls are just one game back of Miami and Detroit (tied for the eighth seed), however, Chicago had lost six-of-seven and the wheels were coming off before this injury. Also, they have a rough stretch of games coming up (the next three are Wizards, Jazz, Raptors), and Wade was bringing 18.6 points per night and some of the best clutch play on the team. Now the Bulls will have to lean more on their thin bench, and there hasn’t been a lot of good shooting there either (which is what they need).

Will Wade return to the Bulls? There are 23.8 million reasons he might — that’s how much his player option is for, and at age 35 he’s not going to get that much on the open market. That said, Wade’s return to his hometown did not go well this season, he was clearly frustrated with the front office and largely just ignored the coach, and he may well just bolt. That seems to be the sense around the league, that he will not return to Chicago. He could go back to Miami, you can bet LeBron James will pressure Cleveland to go after him, and a few other teams will line up. We will see this summer what matters to Wade — money, contending, lifestyle — by the choices he makes.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.